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Industry calls on EU member states to show ‘clear commitment’ in smart farming

By Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com

his article is part of our special report Innovation in post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy.

The EU manufacturers of agricultural machinery (CEMA) have called on member states to indicate a “clear commitment” to the digitisation of European agriculture as the only way to face the current environmental and economic challenges.

This message has also been acknowledged by the European Commission, which submitted to the EU member states earlier this month a draft declaration titled “A smart and sustainable digital future for European agriculture and rural areas”.

According to the document, EU member states recognise the “urgency” to speed up the introduction of new technologies in order to address increasing challenges related to the environment, economy and society.

“Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Blockchain, the Internet of Things, High-Performance Computing and fast broadband, including 5G, are already causing profound transformations in our economies and societies, and will be particularly critical for smart farming,” the document reads.

Precision or smart farming is based on the optimised management of inputs in a field according to actual crop needs. It involves data-based technologies, including satellite positioning systems like GPS, remote sensing, and the Internet, to manage crops and reduce the use of fertilisers, pesticides and water.

Based on the need to “produce more with less”, precision farming is emerging as an innovation-driven solution and the introduction of the new technologies helps farmers to manage their farms in a sustainable way taking into account the “slightest detail” of everyday farming.

The post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) plans to introduce a new delivery model, granting EU member states more space to come up with their own national strategic plans adjusted to their various agricultural needs.

However, this also poses a challenge, considering that there are still doubts whether the member states will manage to digitise their farming sector if there is no overall coordination led by the  Commission.

“The Draft Declaration is the opportunity for a clear commitment from the EU member states in that direction,” Jerome Bandry, secretary-general of CEMA, the European trade association representing the manufacturers of agricultural machinery, told EURACTIV.com.

“The European Commission has placed access to digital farming tools at the top of its agenda for the future CAP. We hope that horizontal strategic objectives, such as the digitisation of the agri-food sector, will be kept as one of the drivers to make European agriculture more competitive, sustainable and economically viable,” it added.

The draft declaration was presented on 11 March at the Special Committee on Agriculture, which is one of the preparatory bodies of the AgriFish Council. However, the declaration was not on the agenda of the AgriFish meeting on 18 March.

A source from the Romanian EU Presidency told EURACTIV.com that it is not yet sure if it’s going to be on the agenda of a meeting in April as the agenda still has not been made available.

Building digital skills

A key factor in enhancing the digitisation of EU agriculture is digital skills. For CEMA’s Bandry, the role of farm advisers in the adoption of smart farming technologies is crucial.

“Today, agricultural advisory services greatly differ among European countries and it might also vary at the regional level. Hence, a realistic way for the quick adoption of digital farming technologies must include highly skilled farm advisors who interpret the data, make agronomic recommendations and design and analyse on-going experiments at the local level,” he said.

Jean-Paul Beens, the head of public affairs and industry relations at fertiliser company Yara, said digital connectivity and knowledge transfer via advisory services will help attract young people and at the same time, improve the livelihood in existing rural communities.

“Although urban farming may prove to be an interesting experiment and knowledge source, the true custodians of sustainable food production and supply are operative elsewhere, often at remote farm locations, which need to be connected to research and the market,” Beens said.

“Local governments do recognise this need for national cohesion, to build bridges between rural and urban communities, to prevent the feeling of isolation and life in a straightjacket, no matter whether they are yellow, pink or purple,” he added.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

 

 

Source: https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/industry-calls-on-eu-member-states-to-show-clear-commitment-in-smart-farming/

 

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How art and science are helping chicory

AN INSIDE LOOK AT THE NEW CHIC PROJECT. BY: MARCEL BRUINS

Root chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) is an under-utilized crop. It is currently used for the commercial production of inulin, which is added to many food products as a dietary fibre and sweetener.

The CHIC project aims to develop chicory varieties that can be used to produce dietary fibre with enhanced prebiotic effects to promote gut health. At the same time, given its biosynthetic capacity, high yields and low agronomic requirements, chicory has significant potential as a versatile production host in molecular farming for the production of many additional health-related products with benefits for consumers. CHIC also aims to harness this potential for the extraction of other types of health-related compounds such as terpenes as potential lead molecules for drug development. To achieve this, new chicory varieties must be developed. However, chicory breeding is currently exceptionally time-consuming. Since it is an obligatory outcrossing species, no true varieties can be obtained, and germplasm is maintained by in vitro propagation. Macarena Sanz, project coordinator – CHIC Dissemination and Communication Manager, says CHIC aims at developing chicory varieties as a crop to increase the diversity and sustainability of agricultural production while serving consumer needs. These varieties will require less agrochemical and shall produce improved dietary fibres and medical compounds.

“CHIC also aims to facilitate a transparent discussion and create awareness about new plant breeding techniques (NPBT) such as CRISPR,” she says. “We will compare their efficacy, potential risk, evaluate socio-economic consequences and develop business plans for commercialization.”

Why was chicory chosen for this project over other crops? The idea of the European Commission was to address minor utilised non-food crops that produce interesting compounds and have potential for molecular farming. Chicory is just like that – it is a crop that grows in the north of Europe, predominantly in France, The Netherlands and Belgium. It is already used for the commercial production of inulin and the processing pipeline is in place. Chicory can become a multipurpose crop, since it also produces interesting terpenes. The project plans on using new plant breeding techniques.

However, the ECJ recently ruled that such techniques should be regulated, as GMOs. Isn’t that a drawback for the project? Sanz says this shows the importance of projects like this, and perhaps they are needed now more than ever. By using NPBT, CHIC will develop chicory plants with consumer benefits. They will assess the products as well as the methods used, their safety and their possible socio- and economic impact. “We will do this by enhancing interactions and open communication with stakeholders, including the public. In doing so, we aim to boost awareness and take into consideration all the needs and concerns we will detect during the whole length and development of the project.”

PUBLIC AWARENESS

Sanz says in their project, they will reach out to the public by engaging them with several activities. A solid publication strategy will be developed and  implemented, which will allow them to disseminate publishable data to researchers by using traditional channels (such as symposia, journals, presentations at conferences etc.) and to engage with key stakeholders. Communication with stakeholders and the general public will be crucial, since their objective is to increase public awareness and appreciation of NPBTs to generate valuable natural products – this is particularly relevant in case of potential consumers and new products. Training activities aimed at school children and households will be organised allowing researchers and interested stakeholders to gain knowledge and skills in the NPBTs relevant to the project. “To this purpose, we will organise four CHIC days in different European schools for teenagers (age 14 – 16) to educate them about ‘hot topics’ such as new plant breeding techniques,” she says. “Moreover, the educational material will be designed for teenagers and disseminated through smartphones/tablet application. This will include demos and games to explain in an education, visual and interactive way the relevance of these topics, such as the positive impact of NPBTs, GMOs on human health and increasing food demands.” In addition, Sanz says they will have an active presence on social media channels and organise initiatives to involve artists, since art is an effective ´language´ when it comes to transmit knowledge, values and stronger connection with the audience. “Both science and art are human attempts to understand and describe the world around us. Art can not only provide the audience with information, but also elicit visceral, emotional responses and engage the imagination in ways that prompt action and a positive attitude towards such complex topics that could be hard to explain with words and scientific notions,” she states. “For these reasons, involving artists in the project could attract a broader audience, such as people that would otherwise not be interested in science developments, since it´s a more evocative and effective way of communicating.”

IMPACT AND SUSTAINABILITY

Within the CHIC project, a socio-economic and an environmental assessment will be performed. Regarding socio-economic impacts, there will be assessments on how different NPBTs will influence economic and social indicators such as GDP (Gross Domestic Product), production volume, growth, competitiveness, and employment as well as the distribution of wealth and income between different sectors and regions within the EU. The assessment of environmental issues will be done with the methodology of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) which is an established method of environmental assessment providing information about environmental aspects over the whole life cycle. The LCA will be performed on the NPBTs and based on the whole value chain from breeding, cultivation, harvesting, processing to the final products (inulin and terpenes). The most relevant environmental aspects and parameters (e.g. GHG emissions, primary energy consumption, land use aspects, water issues) with their influencing factors will be identified and compared to a conventional reference system.

Of Note:

• The private sector are partners in the project. Stakeholders from the private sector will be involved throughout the project (e.g. farmers, processors, food companies etc).

• The outcome can be translated to other crops.

• CRISPR is the main technique that will be used. We will use different variants and see which ones best fit chicory.

 

Link to the magazine and the article: https://european-seed.com/docs/books/volume-6/issue-1/?page=26

 

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How Art and Science are Helping Chicory: An Inside Look at the New CHIC Project

Posted on February 21st, 2019 by Marcel Bruins

Among the various projects which are supported through the EU Horizon 2020 funding programme is the CHIC research and innovation project. It plans to establish a responsible innovation pathway for developing and using New Plant Breeding Techniques (NPBTs) for chicory as a multipurpose crop for the production of inulin and terpenes.

Root chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) is an under-utilized crop. It is currently used for the commercial production of inulin, which is added to many food products as a dietary fibre and sweetener. The CHIC project aims to develop chicory varieties that can be used to produce dietary fibre with enhanced prebiotic effects to promote gut health. At the same time, given its biosynthetic capacity, high yields and low agronomic requirements, chicory has significant potential as a versatile production host in molecular farming for the production of many additional health-related products with benefits for consumers. CHIC also aims to harness this potential for the extraction of other types of health-related compounds such as terpenes as potential lead molecules for drug development. To achieve this, new chicory varieties must be developed. However, chicory breeding is currently exceptionally time-consuming. Since it is an obligatory outcrossing species, no true varieties can be obtained, and germplasm is maintained by in vitro propagation. European Seed sat down with project coordinator Macarena Sanz, CHIC Dissemination and Communication Manager.

European Seed (ES): Macarena, can you tell me a bit more about the CHIC project?

Macarena Sanz (MS): CHIC aims at developing chicory varieties as a crop to increase the diversity and sustainability of agricultural production while serving consumer needs. These varieties will require less agrochemical and shall produce improved dietary fibres and medical compounds. CHIC also aims to facilitate a transparent discussion and create awareness about new plant breeding techniques (NPBT) such as CRISPR. We will compare their efficacy, potential risk, evaluate socio-economic consequences and develop business plans for commercialization.

ES: Why was chicory chosen for this project over other crops?

MS: The idea of the European Commission was to address minor utilised non-food crops that produce interesting compounds and have potential for molecular farming. Chicory is just like that – it is a crop that grows in the north of Europe, predominantly in France, The Netherlands and Belgium. It is already used for the commercial production of inulin and the processing pipeline is in place. Chicory can become a multipurpose crop, since it also produces interesting terpenes.

ES: The project plans on using new plant breeding techniques. However, the ECJ recently ruled that such techniques should be regulated as GMO’s. Isn’t that a drawback for the project?

MS: This shows the importance of projects like this, and perhaps they are needed now more than ever. By using NPBT, CHIC will develop chicory plants with consumer benefits. We will assess the products as well as the methods used, their safety and their possible socio- and economic impact. We will do this by enhancing interactions and open communication with stakeholders, including the public. In doing so, we aim to boost awareness and take into consideration all the needs and concerns we will detect during the whole length and development of the project.

ES: Will the CHIC project be using mainly techniques based on CRISPR-Cas, or also using other techniques?

MS: Yes, CRISPR is the main technique that will be used. We will use different variants and see which ones best fit chicory.

ES: How are you planning to raise awareness and improve the interaction with the public?

MS: In our project we will reach out to the public by engaging them with several activities. We will develop and implement a solid publication strategy which will allow us to disseminate publishable data to researchers by using traditional channels (such as symposia, journals, presentations at conferences etc.) and to engage with key stakeholders. Communication with stakeholders and the general public will be crucial, since our objective is to increase public awareness and appreciation of NPBTs to generate valuable natural products – this is particularly relevant in case of potential consumers and new products. Training activities aimed at school children and households will be organised allowing researchers and interested stakeholders to gain knowledge and skills in the NPBTs relevant to the project. To this purpose, we will organise four CHIC days in different European schools for teenagers (age 14 – 16) to educate them about “hot topics” such as new plant breeding techniques. Moreover, the educational material will be designed for teenagers and disseminated through smartphones/tablet application. This will include demos and games to explain in an education, visual and interactive way the relevance of these topics, such as the positive impact of NPBTs, GMOs on human health and increasing food demands. In addition to this, we will guarantee an active presence on social media channels and organise initiatives to involve artists, since art is an effective ´language´ when it comes to transmit knowledge, values and stronger connection with the audience.

ES: You plan on using artists to better convey the relevant messages. What will be the additional benefits of using artists?

MS: Because art and science are more closely related than we think. Both science and art are human attempts to understand and describe the world around us. Art can not only provide the audience with information, but also elicit visceral, emotional responses and engage the imagination in ways that prompt action and a positive attitude towards such complex topics that could be hard to explain with words and scientific notions. For these reasons, involving artists in the project could attract a broader audience, such as people that would otherwise not be interested in science developments, since it´s a more evocative and effective way of communicating.

ES: How do you plan to assess the impact on the sustainability of the CHIC project?

MS: Within the CHIC project a socio-economic and an environmental assessment will be done. Regarding socio-economic impacts, we will assess how different NPBTs will influence economic and social indicators such as GDP (Gross Domestic Product), production volume, growth, competitiveness, and employment as well as the distribution of wealth and income between different sectors and regions within the EU.

The assessment of environmental issues will be done with the methodology of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) which is an established method of environmental assessment providing information about environmental aspects over the whole life cycle. The LCA will be performed on the NPBTs and based on the whole value chain from breeding, cultivation, harvesting, processing to the final products (inulin and terpenes). The most relevant environmental aspects and parameters (e.g. GHG emissions, primary energy consumption, land use aspects, water issues) with their influencing factors will be identified and compared to a conventional reference system.

ES: In certain fields there is a feeling of growing opposition against innovation, including in agriculture and the seed sector. How can we overcome this opposition?

MS: I am not sure there is growing opposition against innovation. There are many innovation projects going on in the food and agriculture fields, and we need at all costs to better interact with the target we want to reach, if we want to be successful.

ES: How will the private sector be involved in the CHIC project?

MS: The private sector are partners in the project. Stakeholders from the private sector will be involved throughout the project (e.g. farmers, processors, food companies etc).

ES: Do you expect that the outcome can be translated to other crops?

MS: Yes, we do. Both the technologies and the ways to interact with society.

 

 

Source: https://european-seed.com/2019/02/how-art-and-science-are-helping-chicory-an-inside-look-at-the-new-chic-project/

 

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